November – December 2015

In 1972 Italian spectators were able to view the exuberant works of the eclectic Japanese artist Key Hiraga (b. 1936 – d. 2000) for the first time. After nearly half a century Studio Gariboldi is pleased to present a retrospective exhibition dedicated to the artist, displaying his works from “The Elegant Life of Mr. K” series (1960s-1970s).

After graduating from Tokyo University Key Hiraga devoted himself to art. In 1956 he started to participate in some important group exhibitions and this year marked the beginning of his brilliant artistic career. In 1965 a granted scholarship allowed Hiraga to move to Paris-a crucial step for a young artist. After initial cultural shock,  he enriched his artistic poetics, at that time characterized by almost total monochromatism with a burst of color. Hiraga was greatly inspired by the Pigalle district of Paris, where he resided for many years. He enjoyed observing the Parisian nightlife, which he would portray in his art in comic and vivid manner by adding imaginary figures, mysterious men and lustful women.

William Lieberman, the curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, was struck by the quality of Hiraga’s paintings while visiting his studio and decided to include them in the “New Japanese Painting and Sculpture” exhibition in 1966.

The years in Paris triggered and accelerated Hiraga’s liberation from the burden of the Japanese tradition. In fact the artist felt a strong need to reflect in his paintings the instincts and the primordial nature of the human being, fighting against the imposed moralism and the mechanization of the modern society.

In 1966-1967 Hiraga joined the ORA Group, related to the art critic Gérald Gassiot-Talabots, who placed the young artist in the so-called Narrative Figuration. This artistic movement differed from the social neutrality of the School of Paris and the formalism of the american Pop Art.

Gérald Gassiot-Talabots wrote:

“To see these disturbing forms, upside down combed heads with bowler hats on, in the middle of a forest of symbols in which sex has a leading position, to decipher these intricate tattoos, these insolent colored ties-languages, these equivocal roses, these cheerful night owls who have forgotten the laws of gravity, the least we can say, is that Hiraga is a painter who doesn’t have his feet on the ground.”

In 1969 in Paris Letters of Art International, R.C. Kenedy would later add:

“(…) just like mice, he carries the values of a parasitic plague that comes from repressed desires. He speaks about yearning, illustrating its abstract strength. Hiraga enriches his work with irresistibile epidemic image, for which he demands the metaphysical grandeur of mere beauty – an extraneous concept to the notions of good and bad adapted in fashion”.

But who is really Mr. K., the protagonist of Hiraga’s series? Mr. K. (or Mr. H.) is a mysterious man, the alter ego of the artist, who is born in his imagination and lives on the canvas. Exploring the relationships between the opposite sexes and describing a world where eroticism is a dominant force, Mr. K, with his bowler hat and stylish jacket, looks like an English gentleman of the early twentieth century. A mix of irony and voyeuristic surrealism mingle within the unique and complex compositions, which overflow with minuscule and elaborate details.